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How a Sex Pistol lifted Country Life butter sales by 85 per cent

How a Sex Pistol lifted Country Life butter sales by 85 per cent

By UTalkMarketing Editor, Clark Turner.

Think adverts for butter and instantly images of happy cows in pastoral surroundings spring to mind. Not the filth and the fury of a Sex Pistol.

But the radical decision by Country Life butter to sign up Johnny ‘Rotten’ Lydon  to front a £5 million re-launch marketing campaign to drive sales, household penetration and brand awareness has been worth its weight in gold.

The move was taken in September 2008 addressing a market dominated by the micro drivers of health, convenience, taste and provenance.

“I believe we have a brilliant product which tastes great,” Dairy Crest head of butter and spreads, Nathan King (pictured), told UTalkMarketing.

“We drew up a creative brief, but wanted to hammer home our USP of Britishness distancing ourselves from those competitors whose products come from so far away.”

The positioning of being a British brand was critical. Research from TNS had shown that some 39 per cent of Anchor - Country Life’s biggest rival – mistakenly thought the brand was produced in the UK, not New Zealand.

Country Life needed to challenge consumers’ perceptions so they could reappraise their consumer choices.

“We didn’t want to directly tell consumers what to buy,” said King. “Rather we wanted to give them the information so that they could make their own informed choices.”

“This strong insight brought everything together and with the recession beginning to bite and rising ecological concerns, it seemed a good time to talk about being British. It seemed to resonate well.”

He added, “Johnny Rotten’s association gave the brand some fame. He’s a British rogue known for his for his forthright views and proud to be British.”

“At the time awareness of Country Life being a British butter brand was at a low level and the fame angle was very important for us.”

The ad itself - from Grey London - saw Rotten dressed in country tweeds listing off his personal reasons for not buying Country Life - it’s Britishness, made of British milk  - but attributes for the brand all the same.

The punchline comes as Rotten states, “No, I buy Country Life, because it tastes the best.”

The out-of-place portrayal of the Sex Pistol as a country gent instantly caught the attention of the media with extensive PR coverage.

“He’s so anti-establishment, no one expected to see him that way,” said King. “He may never do any work for us again, but it worked for him and it worked for us.”

The initial burst of TV was supported by grass roots activity with experiential activity at the BBC Good Food Show and county shows across the UK bringing the provenance and the taste messaging, ‘only British butter brand’ positioning direct to consumers.

Additional PR on top of talking up Rotten’s involvement included the placing of recipes which used Country Life, advertorial and radio – all positioned to help consumers make informed purchasing decisions by providing them with the right information.

Digital marketing involved redesigning the brand website - -  to reflect the brand message and unify all the lines under the Country Life banner: cream, milk, cheese and lighter variants of spreads.

Engagement and brand loyalty was driven by asking visitors to sign a support pledge to buy British.

“The campaign had natural talkability and was taken up by hundreds of bloggers,” King revealed. “It was and interesting story from both an industry and consumer perspective.”

The decision was taken not to set up an official fan group on Facebook to avoid accusations of being contrived. But the campaign had buy-in from fans who drove the marketing themselves – while Country Life merely monitored what was being said.

A second phase of the campaign was launched in Summer 2009 and involved a more direct approach highlighting the fact that Anchor comes from New Zealand.

“We wanted the press to be more overt to make sure people got the message but we had to make sure we weren’t being jingoistic, especially as some of our consumers are Kiwis “said King.

“But we had to point things out as subtlety hadn’t worked. We were saying that we were proud of our British heritage. Perhaps it will encourage Anchor to be more proud of their New Zealand heritage.”

The results have been phenomenal. The quarter coinciding with the campaign saw sales rise by no less than 85 per cent. Also, in May 2009 Country Life announced a year on year rise in sales volume by 24.4 per cent and by value by 24.0 per cent to £59 million.

The brand has now overtaken Anchor in value share for the first time. For the week ending August 4, Anchor’s value share stood at 7.1 per cent versus Country Life at 7.6 per cent.

“A year ago the promotional activity drove more volume than value, but that’s now been reversed. It’s a very pleasing position to be in from a profitability perspective,” King revealed.

“There’s been great momentum and we’re keeping scores on our key messages. Keeping value ahead of volume is a great position to be in for the sustainability of brand growth.”

He continued, “Keeping the British providence at the heart of our positioning appears to be working.”

Current marketing projects include a new series of idents for TV channel Blighty celebrating all things British. It’s a move on from working with Rotten but remains on-brand.

“We’ve made some quite brave choices and learnt you have to take some calculated risks,” King said. “If you’re going to do something, be bold, go for it and don’t hold back.

“But marry this with being clear on your consumer insight. Be aware of what you’re bringing to the table versus your opposition. And be engaging!”

View the ad that was at the heart of the campaign below.

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